The bros of Assassins Creed: Unity.

Ubisoft

The bros of Assassins Creed: Unity.

Commentary


Laws. Sausages. The World Cup.

All are things you don’t want to see getting made. But after E3 last week, we should add videogames to that list. In what should have been a celebratory coming-out party for Ubisoft’s new games, the French game publisher accidentally showed off a little too much of its factory, and paid a public price for it.

It started with the revelation that in both Assassins Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4, Ubisoft considered having playable female characters, and then decided against it. Just as a cover-up can be worse than a crime, the attempt to spin away from the initial controversy shoved the company even farther into the spotlight.


“It would have doubled the work on [animation and costumes]. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision. … It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.”

Ubisoft technical director James Therien explains the absence of playable female characters in Assassins Creed: Unity in an interview with VideoGamer.com.


Its initial explanation: Having playable female characters would have been too much work. Critics, including a former Ubisoft animator, called baloney. Okay, the company responded, just kidding — the real reason is that playable women would mess with the story, or something.

Whatever the reason, this discussion over representation in games has become all too predictable.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix. Liberty not playable in game, because reasons.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix. Liberty not playable in game, because reasons.

Ubisoft’s second explanation, that a playable woman character wouldn’t fit into Assassins Creed: Unity’s story — set during the French Revolution — is historically questionable. But it’s a tried-and-true excuse for the homogeneity of game protagonists.

Last year, Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser said the three playable characters in Grand Theft Auto V were all men because “The concept of being masculine was so key to this story.” And last week, the Internet was buzzing after the producer of Nintendo’s latest Zelda game hinted the protagonist might be female — a first for the main series.

He quickly changed course.

“… My intent in saying that was humor,” producer Eiji Aonuma told MMGN. “I don’t want people to get hung up on the way [male protagonist] Link looks because ultimately Link represents the player in the game.”

Gamer culture is supposedly improving, but it’s hard to believe that the companies that make the games are keeping up with the times if they won’t straightforwardly explain why their big-budget games are a nonstop sausage fest. If they actually want to be inclusive, en route everyone needs to be more honest.

Frankly, I’m worried about what this says about me as an avid gamer. By buying games favoring protagonists who look like me, I’m voting with my wallet that diversity doesn’t matter.

Consider Aonuma’s “joke” about Link being a girl: Why is it so laughable that I might be able to accept a character who doesn’t look like me?

Or, when I drive around the beautifully crafted world of Los Santos in Grand Theft Auto V, am I endorsing that “key” focus on masculinity? Am I automatically a registered supporter of the huge characterization gap between playable characters Michael, Franklin and Trevor, who get long back-stories and hours of dialogue, and non-playable characters like Michael’s wife and daughter, whose identities boil down to the word “slut”?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know this: When companies attempt to avoid confronting these types of questions, it leaves me uncertain and unhappy. I’m tired of feeling like being a “gamer” means I’ve signed off on sexism.



6 comments
potatoski
potatoski

I don't think the issue is in the fact that they don't have female characters in their games. Not all story plots require a female character (unless it's set in a town full of men, because that is just going out of your way to make it anti-female). If a game is set during the civil war and they are trying to make it as historically correct as possible, then it would be kind of stupid to put a female into the battlefield. NOT because a girl couldn't fight in a war if she tried, but because they simply didn't allow it back then. Wrong or not.

My issue with the subject is their reasoning behind it. It's pretty obvious they view women as too weak to fit into a masculine story plot. Even if they are keeping out females to please their mostly male audience, what kind of message is that sending? Only men can be buff and badass? It's easy to blow it off and say that it's not a big deal, but this is having some kind of effect on the way society views women whether you want to see it that way or not.

And seriously? Their best excuse was that it didn't fit into the budget? If there is anything I've learned about lying, it's that usually when the excuses are irrational/changed, its probably being used to cover up the real reason. And there's no point in trying to cover up something unless it's bad.

JustForThisComment
JustForThisComment

Can't we just play the GAME? This article seems to be raising an issue that isn't an issue and making people feel bad about it, as well as overlooking the plethora of games that do feature playable female characters. Beyond Two Souls's entire existence resides around assuming the position of a girl and feeling her life's struggles for goodness sake. Games are about having fun and over-analyzing them makes them suck for everybody. Even if there are games, like the sole one I can think of GTA, that do herald misogyny as part of the experience, it is that developer's choice and don't buy it if you don't like it. I think we all realize that the real world view in GTA is ridiculous and disregard it anyway. Lastly though, being a gamer does not make us misogynists by default, which is frankly insulting. I request that you do not deride an entire industry as well as its benevolent community over a petty drive to stir the pot so attempting to spur your own journalism career.

PariahComplex
PariahComplex

Just forget to mention Samus, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Lara Croft, Borderlands- Lilith, Maya and Gauge, Princess Peach, almost every Final Fantasy, Heather Mason, Last of Us, Beyond Two Souls, Fallout, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, KotOR, Demons Souls, Dark Souls 1-2? And that's just off the top of my head

Pieter Huizinga
Pieter Huizinga

...And your own gibe at "the world cup" is NOT disrespectful for just about the entire earth population except the americans?

Put the dunce cap on and stand in the corner.

madfoot
madfoot

The current Broadway cast of French Revolution musical Les Miz features a black Eponine, and that seems to be working well ... even though it's not historically accurate. So there's that.  

JustForThisComment
JustForThisComment

So snub historical accuracy to squelch whines? I know Les Mis is just a simple story, but this seems to be what you're ultimately implying should be applied in all situations.

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